Commissioners at odds on need for pier master plan

County Commission Chairman Rob Williamson has a vision of what the Navarre Beach pier should look like in coming years.

He said he would like to see coffee and ice cream shops, retail opportunities, rental activities and an expanded stand-alone restaurant. “I believe we could be tripling that revenue,” he said.

The Board of County Commissioners discussed the future of the pier at its regular meeting Monday. Williamson proposed that the county pay for a master plan, but his idea and the method to get there were not shared by the board.

An initial proposal would have brought in a consulting firm to create a master plan for the entire property, from the edge of the pier area in the west to the farthest eastern edge of the parking lot and the beachfront area in the south. The project area would also include a restaurant property that has remained vacant for several months.

Commissioner Lane Lynchard said the county clearly needs to work out what the future of the pier will be when the current contract for operation runs out, but larger plans for the property would require separate discussions. He said talk about creating a boardwalk-like area would need to be separated from the pier discussion.

“There is tremendous potential there with just the operation of the pier…That is one thing,” Lynchard said. “If you are looking at that entire area, that is an entirely different concept. We are looking at a major change in that area.”

Williamson insisted that the area as a whole should be discussed and a master plan written. He mentioned incorporating improvements that the county had already identified into the master plan process, including bathrooms, showers and signage.

“It would create a footprint that we would like to expand into,” he said.

But Lynchard said that the future of the pier itself needs to be pulled to the forefront, with any larger transformation discussed later. He said the “writing is on the wall” with the current pier contract.

Partners in Coastal Concessions LLC, the company that currently operates the pier and its adjacent Loggerheads restaurant, are embroiled in a legal battle regarding the management of the company. Scott Rayner and Stephanie Maddox both allege that the other is responsible for the company’s failure to pay between $12,000 and $18,000 in taxes owed to the state.

The existing lease expires Dec. 31, but Commissioner Bob Cole said he was concerned that the current operator would not make it through the summer.

The lack of faith by commissioners could spell bad news for Coastal Concessions, whose sole source of income has become the pier and its restaurant. The company earlier backed out of or lost several other contracts.

Lynchard said the best way to drive improvements at the pier would be to guarantee the next tenant a longer lease term, roughly 10 to 15 years.

“We need to say this is the footprint we are willing to give you. What do you propose to put there, what is your capital investment, how long a term do you want and what kind of return are you going to give the county?” Lynchard said, referring to future talks with potential pier operators.

 

“As the county we are not going to go in and put in a restaurant for a couple of million dollars, but someone else might be willing to do that if we give them a10 to 15-year lease,” he said.

Cole and Commissioner Don Salter both said they agree with Lynchard on the path forward.

Salter recalled the difficulties that the county faced when it initially put out the contract for the pier. He said there were significant holes in the contract such as who is responsible for paying the power bill. A new contract would need to be fleshed out in greater detail and offer the opportunity for a longer lease term.

Once all that is settled, the county would be in a better position to pursue a master plan, Salter said.

Commissioner Sam Parker said that citizens are tired of tax dollars being spent on studies and plans.

“I guess I am just getting a little leery of studies and plans. I am telling you there are a lot of frustrated citizens out there that feel we have had too many studies and too many plans,” Parker said. “I feel like we are over complicating it. … (There is a problem) if you can’t go out there and say we need some showers and support that. I don’t think I need to pay someone to tell us that.”

Williamson conceded. He told County Administrator Tony Gomillion that the county should move forward with the identified improvements such as bathrooms, showers and signage.

The board has directed staff to create an RFP (Request for Proposal) to entice potential operators to build up the pier, restaurant and outdoor facilities within a designated footprint. Commissioners advised that the lease length should be extended to encourage deeper investment by the operations company.

Tourism branding

 In other action, Paradise Advertising presented the proposed brand for Santa Rosa County to the board for approval. The brand redesign received unanimous approval from the Tourism Development Council board.

The brand motto is “Navarre Beach, Florida’s most relaxing place.” The presentation included a logo “Navarre Beach, Florida’s Panhandle” with what Chief Creative Officer Tom Merrick called a “semi-retro” font.

The board was shown a variety of mock-ups that included pushes for the uncrowded nature of Navarre Beach, the peaceful slowness of Coldwater Creek and the laid-back feel of Santa Rosa nightlife.

Scripts for video ads with similar messages were also included, and a mock-up of a “welcome to Navarre Beach” sign was also presented.

The brand also includes the new web domain getrelaxing.com which will be transformed into the county’s new tourism website. Currently the web link redirects visitors to the previous tourism page because final design has not been completed on the new website.

While all the commissioners expressed positivity about the new brand, Parker said he was concerned that “relaxing” might translate to “boring” for families with small children.

Vice president of Account Services Rudy Webb said the advertisements will be used to hook the attention of the target audience, primarily women between the ages of 25 and 54, to drive them to the website where the variety of activities in the county would be listed.

Sales tax input

 The board also moved forward with scheduling public meetings to discuss application of the roughly $39 million in expected revenue from the newly created half-cent local option sales tax. This tax, which took effect in January will last five years, produces revenue that can be used only on capital outlay projects.

A list of projects proposed by county staff fell under scrutiny and criticism last month, prompting the board to hold public meetings for further discussion.

The Infrastructure Surtax Meetings will start at 5 p.m. The first hour of the meeting will consist of public information. Staff will be available to answer questions. There will then be time allotted for a public input session before the county commissioners. The meeting dates are:

  • Monday, April 3, at Chumuckla Community Center in Jay
  • Tuesday, April 11, at Tiger Point Community Center in Gulf Breeze
  • Tuesday, April 18, at the Santa Rosa County Administrative Center Board Room in Milton

All these items will be voted Thursday during the BOCC’s regular meeting in Milton.

As seen in the Mar. 9 issue of Navarre Press. Click here to subscribe for as little as $38 per year.

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